Fr John's Homily - Ave Maria College Graduation Mass 2019

23 October 2019 | General Interest



What does the Gospel Message of Jesus mean to us for our lives and future? And what do images of salt and light tell us about who and how we are meant to be?

Mt 15.13-16     Eph 3.2-12


Last week, friends,  two of your leaders, Natalie and Eliza, were kind enough to come down with Patrick Jurd, your Director of Faith and Religious Education, to help me with a few thoughts and insights into who you lot were, how the year(s) here had gone for you as a group, and how you appreciated the opportunities you had been given to develop your talents, broaden your education and to forge solid long-term friendships,  formed over your time together, and in the way you’ve accepted new members into your group along the way. (Some wisdom here from Ringo! ‘I get by with a little help from my friends’!)   The memories will remain, but hopefully, so will the friendships, aided by the remarkable means of communication with social media, used in the most positive ways, these days.  They also provided me with some background info about your year’s activities, achievements and interests for all 119 of you!

It’s also important to acknowledge and appreciate that your parents have made sacrifices and forked out a considerable amount for your education in a Christian environment in the Catholic tradition, although I also like to say I am a small ‘c’ catholic, as it connotes the universal nature of  the Christian message we call Gospel or Good News of Jesus, and also implies our common humanity on this precious planet, for which we all have a responsibility to preserve, protect and respect, as well as each other. (So where are the non-Catholics here tonight, as I believe it’s important to acknowledge your presence, support and welcome involvement in our celebrations, whether parents, teachers or part of the whole picture, which constitutes Ave Maria?)

I know that there is a genuine spirit of social justice within this environment and Christian faith community of Ave Maria College, something which hopefully continues within your own lives, whatever pursuits you undertake in the future.  We talk about a ‘fair go’, and then can forget that not everyone gets that option, but that we can do something to make the world a fairer and better place in our own way, by leaving a positive footprint (and I don’t mean a Carbon one!)

For example, I hear that during your Year 12 unforeseen in-house retreat, you were challenged to think for yourselves about faith and life and your futures.  You have reflected on diversity, acceptance, inclusion and had a competitive spirit among yourselves in a very positive way.  A real sense of community and togetherness, along with mutual support for each other were also aspects highlighted in our chat.  I sensed gratitude for the formation and growth you’ve received over your years here at Ave Maria, with encouraging staff becoming good friends too, as you move forward to take on the wider world.

What about the readings chosen for this evening? Paul is reflecting on the mystery of faith and life, saying that the Gospel message of Jesus is for all people, whatever their backgrounds or ethnicity. It is Good News to be shared and lived.  So how do you and I apply that?

As for the Gospel, here we have the follow on from the Beatitudes, Jesus’ basic charter for taking a positive attitude to life, with metaphors of salt and light ensuing. (Who does physics and/or chemistry?)  As a scientist myself, I love these classic images, as they reflect interesting qualities.  (Salt is a stable compound, ionically bonded, yet composed of dangerous and volatile elements on their own, Sodium and Chlorine,  depicting a model of hexagonal close packed cubic crystal structure. Then light provides confusion as to whether it is a wave or a particle, as it can act as both! (That’s enough science for this evening!)   In Jesus’ time, salt was a preservative (without refrigeration) and added taste to food (as long as you didn’t have high blood pressure – no sphygmometers back then either!).  Light was critically important (no switches or electricity), and a means of finding one’s way in the dark, and keeping warm in the cold too.  And so Jesus is telling us to maintain our enthusiasm for life as his followers, and to show the way to others by the way we take his message to heart and try to live in its spirit.

We all have our need for dealing with the darker side of our nature, facing up to our weaknesses and trying to do a bit better.  Jesus moves to the heart of his message about love as something to be reflected and lived out in our lives, not in some romantic, idealistic way, but in real and practical ways.  His message is positive about a faith which is alive and active, more than just taking it easy with nice feelings and comfort zones. You can’t tell me that’s not a bad idea as an approach to living life well and finding happiness and fulfilment along the way.  This doesn’t just happen by chance.  There’s no harm in aiming high, but accepting we’re not all going to achieve all of our goals and hopes, no matter how hard we might work for them.  The challenge is always there, to live a fulfilling life, realizing that service to others, with a bit of self-sacrifice along the way, and working towards a just society and a better world, is a part of the deal.

The charism or spirit of the Franciscan Missionaries of  Mary, based on the Franciscan values of truth, love and peace continues here in your peer group and college community, in taking Jesus’ Gospel of love to heart and applying it in action, in so many different ways. 

And as you come up to the final challenge of secondary school with impending exams, you must know it’s not all about ATARs, important thought the score you aim for might be.  Remember, it’s not a determinant of your future, but merely a signpost along the way, not the be all and end all of everything. Your identity is not at all defined by your score, however high or low.  It’s just one measure of temporary success, not of your worth as a person, but good luck with it all! 

(Only recently, I organized a 50th anniversary reunion of my Year 12 group (then called Matriculation) from CBC St Kilda, and of 146 or so, we were able to locate about 70, with nearly 50 coming along to Essendon territory for a social evening.  Some I hadn’t seen in 50 years, and it was fascinating to catch up and hear each other’s stories of how life had evolved since 1969, year of the moon landing (show slide of Eagle returning to Columbia), 747 Jumbo Jet taking off, as well as the now extinct and sleek, beautiful but inefficient supersonic bird called Concorde.  And the Beatles were about to break up!  Meanwhile, in the background, the Vietnam War was at its height and we were under threat of conscription to National Service, although university and seminary provided at least a temporary escape till Gough came as PM in 1972!  Most are now greying or bald grandfathers, many retired as well, to chase grandchildren and travel. Where does time go?)

(Who has heard of Greta Thunberg?  To my mind, there was an extraordinary reaction to this young Swedish teenager’s appearance at the UN recently, where she had been invited to speak from the perspective of youth about the future, the environment and the issue of climate change. Greta’s response to her detractors is calm and balanced: “I honestly don’t understand why adults would choose to spend their time mocking and threatening teenagers and children for promoting science when they could do something good instead. I guess they must simply feel so threatened by us.”

Ultimately, for each of us, you and me, teachers, staff, parents and carers, faith is a personal commitment to be lived out by choice.  Christian believers need to be reminded of their ongoing responsibilities to look beyond themselves and share their resources.  It’s not literally a call for total reversal of lifestyle, but conversion in turning towards the needy and responding in practical ways, as you’ve done in your various commitments to helping others along the way so far.  And so, it’s back to basics of the Gospel and Jesus’ teaching on the fundamental law of love.

An apposite Prayer from Pope Francis concludes the 2019 Australian Social Justice Statement: “Lord, make us an instrument of your peace. Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.  Help us to remove the venom from our judgements. Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.  You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:  Where there is shouting, let us practise listening; where there is confusion let us inspire harmony; where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity; where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety; where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions; where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust; where there is hostility, let us bring respect; where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.”  I find it impossible to express the challenge of the Gospel any more clearly than that.  Can you do any better?

And I end with one of my little parables about taking a chance and leaping forward into the unknown, as I’ve been advised with one of the themes for the Year 12 chaps at St Bernard’s year, some of whom some of you will more than likely end up entangled with in the future (in a positive, loving way!): “Break free from your comfort zone and challenge yourself with new experiences.”  It just as well applies to you enthusiastic and capable young women.  So here’s “Bird”, about just that. 

So, go for it, young ladies, live life well, and good luck with whatever and wherever your endeavours might be.  The future is yours, and it’s up to you each to keep doing something positive about that in your lives!


john hannon                                                                               23rd  October  2019


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